The second iteration of United Tribes Festival took place in Omagh across the weekend that saw the death of June and birth of July. A three day music and arts festival with an exceptional ethos of mixing together various styles and genres and vibes, the result was a bubbling cauldron melting pot in which rock, metal, punk, psychedelic, acoustic, mayhemic, and stoner artists and bands rubbed shoulders with rappers, hip hop collectives, and techno, drum and bass, dub, and psytrance DJs.
And pretty much everything in between.
On paper, the idea might not sound appealing to all, but the beauty of it is that there was literally something for everyone, including the many happy dogs roaming the festival grounds, trying to get as many head pats and belly rubs and burgers as possible. Aul Prince was definitely the best boy.
What was immediately striking about the festival is how successful it was, considering the entire thing was Underground, in the sense that someone wanted to do something so they did what needed to be done to bring it to life, with zero reliance on or need for council or state aid. Darran Hall, the main organiser, was able to utilise resources and assemble a team in order to rent out a farm, hire a stage, equipment, and sound-team, book bands and DJs, and organise and decorate everything themselves. And the result paid off in absolute spades.
The eclectic format of the festival is something that the United Tribes team have perfected through gigs and events in Belfast, which usually see a three to five band mixed-bill lineup slam back-to-back into DJs that play until the sun comes up. They’re always memorable nights. Unless forgotten. Hopefully for the right reasons.
These events are somewhat unique for their crowds in the sense that, by and large, metalheads go to metal shows, punks go to punk gigs, hip-hoppers attend rap nights, dance fiends seek out DJs, and rarely is there a strong sense of overlap. Of course there are always exceptions, but true to name, Tribes events’ crowds are always one great big mix of different types of people. And even better, they mix well; a collection of people making new memories, forging new friendships, enjoying the craic together, and reminding each other that no matter how bad things get, life can still be enjoyed.
For this to happen on a larger scale can only be a good thing, both in terms of epic, eclectic gigs branching out into a festival, and also in the sense of people meeting others from different walks of life and with different tastes and sensibilities than their own.
In fact, the latter is so important it could be deemed vital, in a world seemingly hellbent on sowing the age-old divide and conquer shtick into the very fabric of society, a shtick which is an unfortunately tried, tested, and lamentingly effective way to cement and maintain the control of a population by the conveyor-belt powers that be of the day.
With rampant self-serving corruption, dramatically rising poverty levels, a strangulation of the arts, and pre-emptive arrests of protestors, it’s no secret that governments and their paymasters are attempting to price people out of existence and to exercise complete control over the survivors.
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus explored an important notion: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” United Tribes Festival was a reminder of this and of similar, equally important notions:
- happiness itself can be an act of resistance;
- authority is often illusion;
- and crucially, not everything is doom and gloom. Far fucking from it.
The atmosphere of the festival was bordering on the magickal. Honestly. There were probably more smiles, laughs, and hugs within that one small-scale festival during a single weekend than there have been anywhere else in Omagh the rest of the year. And that’s not to disparage Omagh. People were in such good spirits over all three days. There was a level of friendliness and ease that was simply infectious. The festival’s size certainly helped.
A walk from one end to the other took no more than five minutes, and encompassed the main campsite; the gravel-laden Dub Reggae setup; a chippie which, yes, had a veggie option; the industrial farmyard barn that traded livestock for a different set of animals to play Main Stage for the weekend; the Otherworld techno, trance, and drum ’n’ bass tent; and lastly a field which at one end hosted Espaço Libellula, a colourful stall selling funky, ethical jewellery, while at the other end lay the hypnotic, grassy Alien Vibrations psytrance stage, replete with psychedelic artwork and shelter-tarp.
That five minute walk from A to B also included dodging stray kisses blown in the wind, petting dogs, gazing at gigantic roving bubbles, and enjoying short chats and wee hellos with people, both ones you knew and ones you didn’t.
Festival-goers were so welcoming that people felt completely comfortable being themselves, and in some cases, in trying on other people, if the costumed gang of pirates, Blindboys, shamans, and friendly neighbourhood Istari was anything to go by. After all, as important as it is to know yourself, it’s equally important to forget yourself sometimes.
People also felt safe bringing their children along as well as the aforementioned dogs too, which is often a good indicator of a safe and friendly festival. And yet, nothing was diluted. There were certain bands playing that brought what can only be described as a unique brand of sheer chaos.
The Scuntz headlined the second night, blaring their rip-roaring, unpredictable, high-energy banjo punk madness, letting insanity and whim take over until the result was a complete stage invasion, with their fans and muckers clamouring together on stage, hoofing up the excitement. Definitely one of the highlights of the whole weekend.
Before that, their Southern spirit twin The Nilz played their own mayhemic set, with circus ringleader Eddie Nil showing off his proclivities for pouring molten candle wax over his face, sticking lit fireworks up his arse, and wearing gimp masks designed by Liberace. The Nilz are many things but they are never not astounding.
German band Pink Wonder also played an intense, chaotic set that was equal parts hilarious and existential, with bickering married-couple banter between songs but also reminders that we’re all going to die, and calls to hail Satan. Yup.
Friday night headliners Yard played an exceptional set that at times felt like being at a gothic vampire rave, on account of their high energy electro-noise being combined with early New Wave style vocals. And speaking of energy, seeing YINYANG jump on stage and proceed to melt faces while performing collaborative single ‘ECDYSIS’ was truly, truly special.
RARE WITCH was also crazy-good. Hilarious absurdity delivered via banjo, keyboard, and fanciful abstraction. An entirely unique slice of enjoyable insanity. TOOMS, a band who never disappoint, brought their caustic coffin music to Friday night’s proceedings, with harsh riffs and dual vocals attacking everyone in the vicinity. But that isn’t to say every band that played was crazy or intense.
Watching Space Shepherds was like letting a gigantic, slow wave wash over you. Just one big beautiful jam sedately meandering from one point of interest to another. Somehow Sentient were a band that would have gone down well on a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack, nestled among the likes of Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish, while bands like Alpha Twin and Search Party were bouncy and very uplifting. In fairness, it’s hard not to be uplifting when playing the world’s greatest instrument: the saxophone.
Even heavier bands like Puresonic Outcasts and Leitrim had an element of restraint to them, the former in their slowgroove stoner sensibilities, and the latter because the band members seemed to hold back on their own intensity so that frontman Phil’s incredible, emotive, grungy vocals could be let loose to full effect.
This restraint could however have also been caused by the fact that there weren’t many monitors for performers on the Main Stage, which caused a few to think they had been performing poorly when, thankfully, they hadn’t been at all.
The lack of monitors could have been down to budget constraints as much as innocent oversight, but fortunately it didn’t have an impact on the crowds’ enjoyment of the varied sets spread throughout the weekend. It’s certainly something many would welcome for the third iteration of the festival, which raises an important point.
Festivals in their infancy stage only have the potential to get better, as lessons are learnt and improvements made, especially when they’re lucky to have ground-level support which can come in many forms, ranging from spreading word of mouth, attending events and gigs, making donations, and volunteering in some capacity.
Other than that, the assembled stage did exactly what it needed to do. The sound system itself was incredible, and the sound-team did a fantastic job all through the weekend in terms of how each act sounded, as well as keeping proceedings flowing with ease. Not to mention the classic rap that was blasting between bands.
The lighting was exceptional, too. It was crafted and moulded around most acts to such a degree it felt like an extra band member. Before Space Shepherds even came on, a fella mentioned how the mood lighting itself was entrancing. He wasn’t wrong.
The weekend’s greatest culmination of lighting, sound, and artistry was final night headliners Enola Gay taking to the stage. Fresh off the back of slots at both Outbreak and Download festivals, their unique brand of infectious, layered, rising-tension noisepunk calamity was perfectly matched by their thematic green lighting and the wildest strobes in recent memory. Easily in the running for best band in the island of Ireland, they were a sublime way to end the weekend’s Main Stage antics.
Thankfully the Otherworld and Alien Vibrations areas, never empty the entirety of the weekend, kept going for a while longer after the bands stopped playing.
Pretty much every DJ that played either stage did a stellar job, with some absolute blinders happening at the psytrance area, including Darran Hall ending the weekend with a fantastic set that included an Irish traditional song being given the psytrance treatment, to phenomenal effect.
From people calmly swaying or bopping along, to full-on dance freaks throwing shapes and trying to become the music itself, they were exciting places to be, especially after nightfall, when people were dancing with glow in the dark circus balls, and the trippy, fluorescent artwork really shined.
In all, the second United Tribes Festival exceeded all expectations, and for many became the best weekend of the year so far. It felt like a magical playground replete with artists, bands, DJs, dogs, hypnotic fire dancers, and an abundance of craic around every corner. It was a welcome and vital reminder that life can be amazing, happiness can be a form of anarchy, and gaining a widened perspective from meeting and engaging with different types of people can only ever be a richly rewarding thing.
Here’s to many more to come.